Disaster Recovery for the Call Center

By Jim Becker

Not every disaster is as horrific as the World Trade Center, but Call Centers can also be affected by lightning, fire, water damages, telephone and electrical outages, and other natural and man-made catastrophes. All can impact your center and especially your clients.

How can you lessen the affect? First of all, good planning and communications. No one expects a problem, but if one occurs, a center should be prepared. Trying to cope with an outage or worse, without prior planning, can be disastrous for a center and its client base.

Where do you start? Start with involving your staff in preparing a detailed plan. They can help identify specific areas of your business and clients that need to be addressed in case of an emergency. Then perform regular system backups. Depending on your center and the type of clients, once a week might be acceptable. Those with “critical” clients, such as medical, specialty service accounts, and emergency-type calls should obviously back up their system more often; maybe even daily. Store the back-up information away from your center. Alert your managers and key staff as to where it is and what to do if there is a need to use the backup.

Power outages due to lightning and power interruptions can be a problem. Make sure you have reliable back-up power. Test the back-up power at least once a month. It is not uncommon for batteries and other parts of the system to fail over time; be sure and replace batteries according to your manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Again, make sure your managers know what to do if you lose power. If the power goes out for extended periods of time, you may have to supplement your battery-based power back-up unit with a generator. Not all off-the-shelf generators will meet the needs of a center. You may need to run the power through a line conditioner to help eliminate power spikes, surges, and variations in voltage.

Also key components in your system could fail. Power spikes, heat, and time take their toll on computer components. Be sure to have spares of critical components like the processor board, power supply, and disk drives. You may even opt for key telephony interface cards for operator station ports, T1, ISDN, or DID trunks, and business lines. You may also want to consider pooling spares with other centers, in your area, who use the same system. Don’t count on counter-to-counter deliveries of key components. Weather and the renewed attention to airport security could make this more difficult or even impossible.

You may consider a small back-up telephone system as a standby unit. If your primary system fails, having a small back-up system can provide your center the opportunity to take calls for key clients. Again, make sure your managers know the procedure if your primary system fails – the procedure to contact your local telephone company to redirect lines to your back-up system or to another location. You may want to set up an agreement with another center that if they have a problem, or if you have a problem, either could redirect lines to the other center so that service would be continued.

Having remote agents may also be part of your plan. Inclement weather could prevent employees from traveling to a central location. Agents who have the ability to work from home would still be able to process calls and provide your clients with the service they expect. Remote stations can work via direct telephone lines or over the Internet. Some system manufactures provide both options. Neither can be set up on short notice. Plan ahead and have the capabilities in place before an emergency so that remote access is available when you need it.

Considering today’s complex computer-based systems, having a service contract in place with your system vendor(s) could be some of the best insurance available. There is nothing more frustrating than having a problem with your system and then finding that technical support is not immediately available or if it is available, it is real expensive.

Keep in touch with your power company and telephone company. Have key contact information readily available. Make sure your managers know how to contact them in case of an emergency.

If you rent or lease space, make sure you work with the property manager so you can get immediate access to the power relay area and the telephone junction area.

Make sure you have adequate insurance to cover fire, water, or electrical problems that could cripple or destroy your system and operations.

Have some working capital available or at least a line of credit with your financial institution to help cover initial expenses in case of an emergency. An insurance policy will not always provide immediate cash necessary to repair or replace damaged facilities and equipment.

Be sure to share your emergency plan with your managers and employees. Keep a copy of the plan with all contact information readily available at your center and another copy off premise. You may need to share your plan with your key accounts and your financial institution. Review the plan every six-to-nine months and update contact information for the telephone, power, building management, insurance, and technical service immediately when it changes.

Having a well thought out and readily available emergency plan can be some of the best insurance your center can have.

You may never need it…but if you do, it could save your business!

Jim Becker is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Amtelco. He can be reached at 800-356-9148.

[From Connection Magazine – November 2001]

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